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Monday, March 20, 2017


(Aristide du Plessis. Pic by Val Adamson)

(Report by Estelle Sinkins)

Westville Boys High School old boy, Aristide du Plessis, is one of the country’s most renowned cellists and on March 24 he will be performing as one of the soloists in the Symphony in the City concert in Pietermaritzburg.

Du Plessis has been surrounded by music since birth. “My earliest music memory is most probably the Gypsy Chorus from Verdi's Il Trovatore (La Zingarella). My father was a tenor and a huge opera enthusiast, so naturally I grew up around this kind of music.

“Other early memories include my mother playing the piano beautifully for hours on end when I was a baby.”

With regular appearances on national television and radio, both as a soloist and chamber musician, Du Plessis has also performed in some of the world's most renowned concert halls, ranging from the Zürich Tonhalle and Vienna Musikverein to the Herkulessaal in Munich, Wiener Konzerthaus and the Berliner Philharmonie.

As a soloist he has performed since the age of 15 with all of the country’s leading orchestras such as the KZN Philharmonic, the Cape Philharmonic, and Camerata Tinta Barocca (Cape Town), under the batons of conductors Naum Rousine, Lykele Temmingh, Alexander Fokkens and Brandon Phillips, who is conducting the Symphony in the City.

Du Plessis is looking forward to working with Phillips, a friend and musical colleague for the last 10 years, on the concert, which also features soloists Junnan Sun (clarinet) and Fifi Olifant (violin).

Asked what had attracted him to the cello, he says: “I saw a cartoon of an orchestra in a children's book when I was about four. Every musician in the orchestra was a different kind of animal. I saw a bear playing the cello, and I was hooked!”

For this concert, Du Plessis, a passionate Brahms’ fan, will not be playing one of his favourite composer’s works. Instead music fans can look forward to hearing the Dvorak Cello Concert.

Speaking about the piece he says: “I believe that it is more of a symphony than a concerto, not only because of the large scale of the work, but also because of the way it lets the orchestra sing so dramatically and beautifully.

“The cello often plays duets with the clarinet, flute and oboe, and exploring and having a ‘dialogue’ with those instruments and their players gives me huge satisfaction as a performer, particularly because I love playing chamber music.”

A graduate of the University of Cape Town, Du Plessis’s initial training was with Kolio Kolev and later Boris Kerimov. A scholarship from the prestigious Oppenheimer Memorial Trust enabled him to further his studies at the Zürich University of the Arts, where he studied with the principal cellist of the Tonhalle Orchestra, Thomas Grossenbacher.

Since his return to South Africa in April 2015, he has become the co-principal cellist of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

No stranger to the Pietermaritzburg City Hall he says the venue reminds him of a classic European concert hall with very big acoustics, adding: “But its wrap-around balcony makes it so charming and intimate. I often wish I could play here more frequently! I also find the red brick exterior and the pipe organ very appealing.”

Asked if he thinks enough is done to encourage young people to perform and listen to classical music, he says: “I can only quote the great composer Igor Stravinsky, one of the 20th century's most influential musicians: ‘People should not be taught to APPRECIATE music. They should be taught to LOVE it!’

As for his plans for the future, Du Plessis says he would simply love to ‘perform music on a higher level with people I love’.

Presented by the KZN Philharmonic, in association with Christopher Duigan’s Music Revival and Parklane SuperSpar, Symphony in the City, will feature solo performances by Aristide du Plessis (cello), Junnan Sun (clarinet) and Fifi Olifant (violin).

The concert takes place on March 24 at 19h30 in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. Tickets for the concert, which is also supported by the Msunduzi Municipality, CPW Printers and ABI, are R190 (R170 pensioners, R120 scholars) and R250 for premier seats. Bookings through Tickets are also available via Ticketpro representatives at Edgars Direct at the Liberty Midlands Mall and CNA at the Hilton Quarry. There is secure, patrolled, parking in the City Hall, Bessie Head Library and Tatham Art Gallery precincts. – Estelle Sinkins